Ossuaries & Charnels

Paris Catacombs

Paris Catacombs

Paris Catacombs

Obviously a site mentioned prominently in the book (principally in the third chapter). This is another one of the sites without the cooperation of which the project could not have been completed, the key issue being photography on a tripod (the Catacombs do allow photos, but not the use of a tripod). That issue turned into one my strangest sagas. I did in fact have permission from the Musee Carnavalet (which administers the site) to use a tripod and shoot whatever I wanted, but this was never communicated to the security staff at the Catacombs, and due to a series of bizarre happenstances I could never quite work out meeting up with someone from the Musee or getting a piece of paper which explained the agreement to pass on to security (that part of the story is long and bureaucratic). I was running out of time in Paris, and had an upcoming flight coming to Athens, so out of desperation I decided to trick the security staff and did the following: I got some long bandages and plastering material and encased my right arm in a fake cast. Prior to this I had taken a book and inserted metal plates in it to make it very heavy, and pasted the cover of the Lonely Planet guide to Paris on it so it just looked like a guidebook. Then I drilled down through the book and inserted a stud with a swiveled screw on it, which poked out just a bit at the tip, enough to screw a real camera on it and have it be totally stable. Despite the bizarre nature of this contraption (all of the pieces of which I had bought at a French hardware store), the camera was as firmly attached as any on any professional tripod. I went down to the Catacombs with my fake broken arm; the camera and book were under my other arm, and wandered around, pretending to be in immense pain, and setting the camera on the book and taking photos with a timer, because I for all appearances I was in too delapidated of condition to manage to hold and operate the camera with my “good arm.” The security guards looked at me quite strangely, but they bought the act. Only one bothered to come up and ask me about it, and I just explained that I had a broken arm and could not hold the camera, and was supporting it by placing it on the book because I did not want it to get dirty if I placed it on the dirt floor. He shrugged and left me alone. The disguised camera stand could hold the camera perfectly steady for even 30 second exposures in the darkest of tunnels, and the photos were extraordinary–I think in particular because of the incredibly low vantage point, with all of the photos taken a couple inches off the ground. In fact, they were so good that I left the fake cast on my arm and went back the next day and took more with the same method. When I got back to the hotel that day I finally got a message from someone at the Musee Carnavalet, and we discussed the misunderstandings and miscommunications, and she asked if I still wanted to go down and take my photos, because she had explained just gotten in touch with and explained our arrangement to the security staff. After two days of wearing a fake cast, I could finally go and take photos with a real tripod. I thanked her but did not explain about the camera attached to the book and the broken arm. I removed the cast, and went back down with a tripod. This of course caused considerable confusion amongst security–they were quite surprised that find out that man they were supposed to give this carte blanche to was the same man who had been wandering around for the last two days with a broken arm and a camera on a book. They kept walking by saying things like, “I see your arm has healed since this morning,” and they watched me quite carefully, suspecting that something quite peculiar was in the works. The irony is that I think the photos taken on the book were actually better than the ones on the tripod–like I said, I think due to the extremely low vantage point.
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